Most of us aspire to find love. It is unquestionably one of the most important goals of our lives. Because of this nearly universal truth, it isn’t always easy for people to grasp the fact that most of us are also angry at love. It is often the case that no matter how long we search or how much we’ve longed for it, once we fall in love, we find ourselves challenged in ways that incite fear, anger and avoidance. At such times, we find ways to push away the people closest to us to create distance and to free ourselves of the inherent burdens of being in love.
Burdens, in the case of love and relationships, can refer to the painful realities of what it means to care for someone and have them care for us in return. Being valued by a loved one challenges our preexisting negative views toward ourselves. We have to recognize our anxiety over losing an identity we’ve accepted all our lives. Moreover, as we come to value someone, we have to face our fears of losing a person who now means a great deal to us. Being in love makes our lives a lot more meaningful, and therefore, both frightening and painful. Our tendency to feel angry at love directed toward us is a defense we all develop in response to these deep-seated fears of intimacy.
Read about Understanding Fear of Intimacy
How Does Our Anger Toward Love Show Itself?
Relationships often fall apart. It’s common for people who were once inseparable to break up and never see each other again. So many couples turn from madly in love to mad with loathing, and all parties are left to wonder what happened. What drove them apart? This shift away from love often starts with our fear of intimacy, which leads us to act out toward our loved ones.
First, it may be subtle things: less eye contact, fewer acts of physical affection, a slight resistance to share activities we once both enjoyed, an increase in critical observations, lowered levels of passion, a slow breakdown of respect for each other’s independence and boundaries. When we act out these patterns of anger toward our partner, we are often truly angry at love itself. When our partner looks at us with kind eyes, it may start to get on our nerves. When he or she reaches for our hand, we may be a little more likely to pull away. These are acts of kindness, intimacy and affection, yet we start to recoil and react as if we are repelled by them.
Eventually, these patterns will become increasingly harmful. As we get closer in a relationship, we actually feel more threatened, and therefore, angrier at being loved. We may “turn it down a notch” by starting to substitute dynamics of passion and love with habitual ways of relating. We may fall into a more deadened routine, avoiding the activities we once shared with our partner that challenged or excited us. We may substitute real love for what psychologist Dr. Robert Firestone conceptualizes as a “Fantasy Bond,” an illusion of connection that we form based on our defenses. When we fall into this illusion, we frequently fall out of love. We replace form over substance, interacting as a single unit, instead of admiring each other as two separate individuals.
Read about The Fantasy Bond
Our resistance toward love often shows itself in the form of a fantasy bond. A couple who falls victim to their fears of intimacy and resorts to fantasy modes of relating will soon find the relationship crumbling before their eyes. They will start to lose themselves in the relationship, feeling guarded and angry, instead of attracted and vulnerable. Eventually, they will feel contempt for a partner they once adored.
Why Do We Feel Angry at Love Directed Toward Us?
As Dr. Firestone wrote in his blog, “You Don’t Want What You Say You Want,” “Most of us profess that we want to find a loving partner, but the experience of real love disrupts fantasies of love that have served as a survival mechanism since early childhood.” These “survival mechanisms” refer to the defenses we formed in response to undesirable circumstances in our early lives. In his book, Fear of Intimacy, Dr. Firestone illustrates this point, writing, “When people have been hurt in their earliest relationships, they fear being hurt again and are reluctant to take another chance on being loved. They utilize distancing behaviors to preserve their psychological equilibrium.”
Our early relationship experiences heavily influence the way we relate in our adult relationships. For example, if we were rejected or dismissed as kids, we may feel insecure as adults. We may seek partners who leave us feeling familiarly empty and alone, or we may choose people who are overbearing to compensate for what we felt we lacked. Either way, we will recreate negative dynamics, rather than seeking out new, healthy ways of relating. We do this, not because we mean to, but because we are subconsciously driven toward what is comfortable or familiar.
If we choose someone who doesn’t fit with the negative aspects of our past, we often start to feel uncomfortable, suspicious, questioning or angry. When we feel loved by someone, it challenges us to see ourselves in a new light and to stop viewing ourselves as we were seen in our family or childhood setting, where we may have felt a lack of love or respect. Of course, our childhoods may have been full of positive, loving experiences as well, but even the best of parents can’t anticipate and respond to all of a child’s needs. Our experiences, both good and bad, are likely to shape our self-image and the way we envision, and ultimately shape, our closest relationships.
Breaking our self-defeating patterns means getting to know ourselves – coming to understand our pasts and how they influence our present. On the surface, our feelings about love may seem positive and hopeful, but deeper inside, we may have fears about being loved. We may feel angry at love at times we don’t expect toward the people we value the most. When this happens, it’s important to have patience with ourselves and self-compassion. We should aim to challenge maladaptive behaviors that would hurt our relationship or create distance between us and our partner. We should be aware of the times we push love away and think about why these moments make us uncomfortable. How do they tie in with our past?
In coming to know ourselves, we open up our capacity to experience love. We can start to feel less angry at love expressed toward us. Even when we notice feeling angry at love from our partner, we can choose how we act, so that we get closer, instead of allowing ourselves to act in ways that would sabotage a worthy relationship.